Thursday, January 29, 2009

Resident Evil 5 Is Going To Kick Ass.

Monday I gassed about the survival horror genre. Today, I am here to tell you something important: Survival horror or not, Resident Evil 5 is going to kick ass. I’ve been blowing my way through the demo since Monday, and the March 13 release date feels so very far away. RE5 (or RE5IDENT EVIL if you please. No? Okay.) doesn’t reinvent what worked so well in Resident Evil 4 – in fact, it seems to have hardly touched it. Accessing the menu no longer pauses the game, your stable of melee attacks has expanded, and it looks much prettier: beyond that, nothing has changed.

Except for that other person you play with.

In my case, this person was our beloved, hapless co-editor, Andrew, who I watched blossom from an absolute liability into a quasi-lethal, mostly harmless girl with a gun – but more on that later. Resident Evil 5 picks up roughly where 4 left off. The sinister biologics corporation Umbrella is gone, the sinister fruits of their labor scattered to the winds to be snapped up by terrorists and third-world warlords. You resume the role of Chris Redfield, the zombie-killing commando from Resident Evil 1. Your job is to prevent zombie outbreaks before they occur – and yes, they are zombies, not “gonados” or “infected.” Shut up.

This brings you to an unspecified desert shithole that, like Far Cry 2, smacks of Mogadishu. Honestly, is Black Hawk Down the only movie anyone has ever seen? I hear post-apartheid Cape Town is very nice. Anyway, there are some Indigenous Residents Whom I Will Not Stereotype by Referring to as “Black” (IRWIWNSR”B”, pronounced “Ear-wee-WIN-serb”) who are very pissed off, and one inexplicably large, hooded executioner who seems content to swing around his axe regardless of who gets in the way. In this scenario, I am Chris Redfield, whose every swell and vein is lovingly and glisteningly rendered, and Andrew is Sheva, a svelte gunwoman of uncertain ethnicity. In the first stage, “Public Assembly,” I have a shotgun, and he (she?) has a rifle. We’re in a room and the IRWIWNSR”B”s are coming for us.

A veteran of RE4, I instruct Andrew to barricade the doors with bookcases – a temporary solution, but it allows us to dictate the pace of the battle. My mic crackles.

“I have a knife. Check it out,” he says. “Melons!”

I barricade the doors while Andrew slices fruit. Believe it or not, this is how all of our co-op excursions go – as college freshmen, our feeble performance in inter-dorm Halo 2 matches caused us to form Team Suck, an alliance dedicated to humorous self-destruction. Extra points were granted for narfing coveted vehicles and ruining them senselessly.

As Andrew giggled, I felt the resurrection of Team Suck close at hand. Then he found the B button.

“Come on!” Sheva shouted, waving at me. Then she said it again. And again. And again, a chorus of “COMEONCOMEONCOMEON” spilling from my TV while Andrew cackled in my ear. The barricades collapsed, and zombies spilled into the room.

As in Resident Evil 4, combat is a mix of third-person shooting and quick time events. Pulling the left trigger aims your gun, but immobilizes your character, making it easy to get mobbed from behind. Choosing where to shoot from is as important as pulling the trigger.

A shot to the knee will halt an IRWIWNSR”B” making them vulnerable to an uppercut, hook, or straight on face-pounded, executed with the B button. Knocked-down zombies get a boot to the sternum. Your common IRWIWNSR”B” carries rifle cartridges, 9mm bullets, gold doubloons, and perhaps less curiously, green herbs rattling around in their pockets.

If this sounds like a gussied-up version of Resident Evil 4, it is – that is, until you play the game with a friend. Capcom’s co-op bag of tricks is at first glance astounding, then increasingly obvious. For example, Chris can hurl his lithe partner across rooftops, or give her a boostie to high ledges. Once separated, one player inevitably has to support the other. In the second playable level “Shanty Town,” I chucked Andrew onto an adjacent building. He descended a staircase, and was mobbed by zombies. Because the building was blown in half, I was able to snipe the nasties off him. In close-quarters situations, you can help entangled teammates by punching zombies in the face. Really, all the work gets done with your fists.

More subtle, however, is the rhythm of bait-and-retreat that players can use to lure zombies into tactical disadvantage. The experience becomes a hybrid between shooter and strategy game; players who work together find the game much easier, and much more satisfying.

It didn’t take long for Andrew to die – or to start dying, rather. In a system akin to Gears of War, players can limp into the arms of a teammate for healing potion, or in lieu of an herb, a magical, resuscitative pat on the back. Once I’d wasted all my herbs on him, Axeman came around. Shooting a propane tank only slowed him, though it did display the game’s stunning pyrotechnic effects – some barrels explode, while others leak a steady stream of flaming fluid, igniting anyone nearby. I find the latter prettier, and more satisfying.

Andrew preferred the explosions –even more so when they involved me. On “Shanty Town:”
Andrew: Hey Rob, c’mere.
Self: No.
Andrew: No, really. There’s something cool I want to show you.
Self: It’s a red barrel, Andrew. I know what this is.
Andrew: There’s some cool writing on the side.
Self: …fine. Let’s get this over with.

You can imagine how this ended. A round through the temple was called for, but Capcom disabled friendly fire – bad for revenge (I call it discipline), but good for dusting zombies off your teammate with buckshot. Splash damage, however, is indiscriminate. Thank you, Andrew.

Once my partner was able to overcome both his unfamiliarity with the series and homicidal urges, we started working as a team, luring zombies into dead ends and dropping grenades on their heads. At our most effective, we knew where the other was, where the other was going, and where we needed to be. It reminds me of another co-op zombie game, one with which I’ve had less experience; but from what I can tell, RE5 is a slower, more cerebral, and more gratifying co-op experience than Left 4 Dead.

And from the snippets of dialog exhibited, it seems the series will end its love affair with shitty writing. Don’t quote us on that.

Come March 13, Andrew and I will tackle the full version in all its glory. Stay tuned for the further adventures of Team Suck. And for those on the fence, rest assured: Resident Evil 5 will be the purest incarnation of zombie action to date. That you can quote me on.

(Andrew made me.)